Wednesday, May 21, 2014

War on Boys

I've heard of the book by Christina Hoff Sommers,  The War Against Boys, but I've not read it yet. Have you?

My husband found this article recently. There's a video that I would like to watch. Alas, our internet is too slow for such things. Maybe yours isn't. If it's helpful, let me know.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Guardians of Ga'hoole Series by Kathryn Lasky

This series is about owls. Talking, thinking owls. Owls that have friends and enemies. Owls that fight pure evil.

I've only read through the first five books, but if they are any indication, these are clean books. I think those who object to the magic in Harry Potter might find these books okay. I don't think the specialness of these owls would be considered magic; it's just the kind of special powers that fantasy characters have.

I must warn you, however, there are bad words used--but they are owl bad words, made up ones. If your child uses them, people will just look at them strangely.

The battle between evil and good is pretty intense. These are not just fun feathery owls. There are real bad guys, and if your son can't handle that, these aren't the books for him. What I liked is that the bad guys were clearly bad, and the good guys were good. And because the owls battle, there is violence, too.

Now you must realize that fantasy stuff is not high on my list of likes, but once I got into the first few chapters of The Capture (the first in the series of 15), it wasn't so bad. By that point, I had figured out the basic jargon that is unique to many fantasy books, and these owls do have special words and phrases we must conquer.  After the first book, I wanted to read more, and more importantly, both of my boy readers did, too. My oldest has read the first 10 books over and over.

I would guess 8 might be an appropriate beginning age for these books (though the reading level on the back cover says RL4), but if you have a different perspective (perhaps you've read all the books), please comment and let us know!

Friday, May 9, 2014

_Marley: A Dog Like No Other_ by John Grogan

I saw the commercials on television for Marley & Me when it first came out, and I thought it looked hilarious. It wasn't until just this past year that I finally saw it on television, and it was better than I had expected. In January I read the memoir that the movie was based on (as recommended by a friend a few years ago), and it was even better than the movie. I laughed out loud and cried. I wanted to read it to my children, but there were just too many adult themes.

*Spoiler Alert* If you don't want to know what happens, then don't continue reading. Of course, that means you won't know my opinion of the book, so proceed with caution.

Then a few weeks ago I spotted Marley: A Dog Like No Other by John Grogan on the library shelves. The front cover claims it is a "special adaptation for young readers," so I had to check it out. After reading it as quickly as possible, and laughing and crying out loud again, I knew I wanted to read it to my older two boys. 

The problem is, as you know if you've seen the movie or read the grown-up version or understand that dogs don't live as long as people, that the lovable, furry, and stupidly boisterous main character dies in the end. I wasn't sure one of my boys could handle that part of the story. I decided to just ask him if he wanted to listen, making sure that both boys realized ahead of time that in the end, Marley would die and that it would be sad. 

He chose not to listen. Except he forgot to leave the room once. After that, he wanted to listen to the whole thing. Except when it became clear that the end was near. Then he didn't listen. Instead, he read the rest of the book on his own and skipped any parts that were just too intense for him. 

In the end, both of my boys absolutely loved the book. They rolled on the floor laughing. Apart from the whole sad part (which really is one of those sads that makes you happy), the book is stinking hilarious.

Now. There are parts some parents may not want their children reading. First--poop. If you have a problem with your children reading about poop, especially dog poop and sometimes vomit and gas, then don't bring this book home.  Second, the death thing. If you think you child can't handle it, preview it first before you let him read it. Third, if your family rejects anything that isn't doctrinally sound, this one mentions doggie heaven in the context of a father trying to comfort his children. 

The fourth thing is that some of the language is. . . hmmm. . . well, not "bad words" exactly, but phrases I mostly don't want my children using or phrases I wasn't ready to explain. These are the only parts I felt strongly enough about to leave out while I read aloud. The wife in the book jokingly shouts to her husband (when the dog plows him over and is on top of him) something about "when you two are done making out." Also, once when Marley was in a movie, a child actress screamed that Marley's "thing" was out.  One phrase I wasn't certain about but read anyway because I wasn't paying close enough attention was about Marley "in pursuit of hot poodle butt-sniffing action." Again, these phrases may be fine for you and yours, but my prudish self cringed a bit when thinking of reading them to my 8-9 year old boys.

That's it. I recommend this book heartily if you are cool with the issues I highlighted. It's not just funny; it's also good writing. Grogan has a way with words. His writing style isn't just humorous; it's also beautiful. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

_Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything_ by Maira Kalman

This colorful book is striking in appearance and style. Maira Kalman takes a poetic approach to writing about the life of Thomas Jefferson. Lilting phrases and fun facts draw the reader into this children's picture book biography. While some uptight people (like myself) might find the text style that uses capital letters in the middle of words annoying, others would likely think it all added to the charm of the story.

But charm is not everything; it often distracts from less appealing qualities.

I can forgive the text style; it's artistic, I suppose. I cannot, however, be okay with what I consider to be age-inappropriate content. Now, it's not blatantly graphic or anything like that; it's just a little too much detail about sensitive topics, and I don't think it's fit for the grades K-3 for which it is recommended. While I think young children cannot and should not be kept in the dark about slavery, I do not think that they need to be exposed quite yet to sexual relations issues when they are not yet ready to learn all about sex itself:
“Here is Jefferson’s farm book with a list of his slaves and the supplies they were given. Our hearts are Broken. One of the names is Sally. It is strongly believed that after his wife died, Jefferson had children with the  Beautiful Sally Hemings. Some of them were freed and able to pass for white. Passing for white meant that your skin was so light, you could hide the fact that you were partially black. To hide your background is a very sad thing. Perhaps people felt they had no choice in such a prejudiced land."

And that brings me to the other problem I have with this book. It presents itself as a non-fiction book, but Kalman intersperses her own feelings and opinions throughout in such a way that the young intended audience cannot easily distinguish fact from opinion. Even when some facts are presented without opinion, they are stated in such a way that there seem to be some subtle political undertones:

“He was a strong leader with many ideas. He believed in separation of church and state. That means that all people should be free to practice whatever religion they like. Religion should not be part of government.”

Kalman  writes of Jefferson, "The monumental man had monumental flaws." That's true, but we all do. I feel that this book had promise, but the monumental flaws ruin it for the younger set. Perhaps it would be useful for the older set to critique.

If, however, you want a different perspective on this book, here's a much prettier blog with lots of pictures and such.

Yesterday I did check out what other picture books our small library had about Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson: A Picture Book Biography by James Cross Giblin had great illustrations (by Michael Dooling) and was really informative. It did not come out and speak about the Sally Hemings relationship, but she was mentioned several times. An older, more astute child might wonder why she was mentioned so often, leading to the important historical discussion.

The two other books compared John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the True Story of an American Feud by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain and Those Rebels, John and Tom by Barbara Kerley were both interesting reads with fun illustrations (by Larry Day and Edwin Fotheringham, respectively). While perhaps Kerley's depiction of King George and England is particularly unfair or American-centric, I found no major flaws for the younger set.